TIME Military

The Islamic State Celebrates Its First Birthday

ISIS flag Raqqa
Reuters A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa on June 29, 2014.

The durability of the terror proto-state proves daunting

Military commanders like to say that “quantity has a quality all its own.” It’s a shorthand way of saying that greater numbers of inferior weapons or troops often can beat smaller, superior forces. Given that Monday marks the first birthday of the declaration of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, it’s also worth noting that the passage of time, too, has a quality all its own.

The quantity of time counts, as days turn into weeks, and months have become a year. Time isn’t an inert presence, either on the physical battlefield or in the war of ideas. It’s a measure of will, a magnet to attract followers, and a manifestation of reality. Bottom line: persistence produces power.

This isn’t good. The Pentagon has adopted a go-slow approach, with its modest air campaign and turgid training schedule, in part to prod Iraq to do the fighting. That’s fine, so long as you believe ISIS is a slow-growing tumor, confined to Iraq and Syria. But as last Friday’s attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia that killed at least 60 make clear, it’s a malignancy that’s spreading.

“They’ve been able to hold ground for a year,” says retired Marine general James Mattis, who served as chief of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. “The longer they hold territory it become this radioactive thing, just spewing out this stuff as fighters go there and then come home again.”

“Listen to your caliph and obey him,” ISIS spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a recording released June 29, 2014. “Support your state, which grows every day.”

Chillingly, al-Adnani issued a call last Tuesday calling on Muslims to mark the holy month of Ramadan by making it “a month of disasters for the kuffar”—non-Muslims. He pledged those carrying out such attacks “tenfold” rewards in heaven in exchange for their martyrdom. Last week’s attacks followed. ISIS took responsibility for the beachfront attack in Tunisia that killed at least 38; an ISIS affiliate claimed credit for the blast at a Kuwait City mosque that took 27 lives; the suspect in the French attack reportedly told police of his ties to the Islamic State after decapitating his employer.

IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency CentreThis map shows where Islamic state and its affiliates are located. The black borders delineate where Islamic State has formally announced a wilaya (province) and the red shows attacks carried out in the name of Islamic State between the declaration of a caliphate on June 29, 2014, and June 22, 2015.

After a year in existence, ISIS continues to keep its grip on the huge swatch of land straddling what used to be the border between eastern Syria and western Iraq. “After awhile, possession is nine-tenths of legitimacy,” Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says of ISIS’s first anniversary. “Just being there, visible, over time gives you more and more influence and ability to create more extremists.”

This represents a new kind of threat. “The Islamic State is not an insurgency like the United States fought from 2003 until its departure from Iraq,” Rand Corp. analyst David Johnson notes in the latest issue of Parameters, the Army’s professional journal. “Rather, it is an aspiring proto-state bent on taking and holding territory.”

The U.S. actually has been fighting ISIS and its forebears for years. “Washington continues to fail to recognize the persistence of this organization going back to the declaration of what was then called the Islamic State of Iraq,” Brian Fishman of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday. “We don’t often recognize our long history of fighting ISIS, but we have effectively been fighting this organization for a decade already.”

As ISIS grew and began controlling greater swaths of Iraq and Syria, there was a sense its days were numbered. Following its seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, just over a year ago, Pentagon officials repeatedly said that Iraqi forces, perhaps aided by small numbers of U.S. troops accompanying them to call in air strikes, would take back the city sometime in the first half of 2015. That hasn’t happened. And for every Tikrit that Iraqi forces, aided by Iranian-backed Shi’a militias, have taken from ISIS by military force, ISIS has attacked and occupied a city like Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar province.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and destroy” ISIS last summer, little has changed. “Very little consequential territory has been reclaimed,” says retired general Jack Keane, who served as the Army’s second-ranking officer from 1999 to 2003. “ISIS still enjoys freedom of maneuver to attack at will, whenever and wherever it pleases.”

While the U.S.-led air campaign has led pretty much to a stalemate on the ground, ISIS’s survival has attracted supporters to its ranks, and led others around the world to claim membership. “What we see very frequently in Afghanistan, with respect to [ISIS], is a rebranding of people who are already in the battlefield,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday in Belgium. They’re donning the ISIS label because “they regard as a better replacement for names they’ve had in the past.”

ISIS’s continuing existence is also generating American recruits, according to an alert last month from the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. law enforcement agencies shortly after police killed a pair planning to shoot up a “draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas. “We judge … that [ISIS’s] messaging is resonating with US-based violent extremists due to its championing of a multifaceted vision of a caliphate,” the agency warned. A key reason for its success in attracting followers, DHS added, is “the perceived legitimacy of its self-proclaimed re-establishment of the caliphate.”

Every day that the undefeated caliphate persists boosts the chances that its followers will strike targets in the U.S. “The most important way to discredit the appeal of their ideology is by military defeat,” Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told that armed services panel hearing last week. “If they’re not holding terrain, if there is no caliphate,” he said. “There is no Islamic utopia.”

TIME United Kingdom

Why Three British Sisters Took Their Children to Join Jihadists in Syria

Bradford sisters syria
Paul Ellis—AFP/Getty Images Akhtar Iqbal, husband of Sugra Dawood, left, and Mohammad Shoaib, husband of Khadija Dawood, react during a news conference to appeal for their return, in Bradford, northern England on June 16, 2015.

“Zohra told me this country was changing too much, and that she was going to take her daughters away because she didn’t see their future here anymore,” a neighbor of one sister tells TIME

The two-story sandstone house at the corner of Hope Avenue, a quiet cul-de-sac in the northern English city of Bradford has been empty for months. Last fall, Zohra Dawood, 32, left the house with her two daughters and moved into her father’s home a little over a mile away. Her husband stayed on for a few weeks before returning to his own father’s home, 4,000 miles away in Pakistan. Neighbors say Dawood changed the locks soon after, but never returned. What happened between members of the family in that house may provide clues for police and relatives who have spent more than a week trying to understand why Zohra Dawood and 11 other family members went missing and are believed to be in Syria.

Dawood, along with her two sisters, Khadija, 29, and Sugra, 34, and their nine children first left the U.K. at the end of May for a pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Medina. They reportedly boarded a flight to Istanbul, Turkey on June 9 instead of flying back to Bradford as planned on June 11. According to a smuggler working for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) quoted in BBC reports on Friday, the family of 12 has already crossed into Syria in two separate groups.

They are not the first Bradford locals to attempt to travel to Syria. The sisters’ younger brother, Ahmed Dawood, 21, has reportedly been fighting alongside extremists there for more than a year. And on Wednesday, a court heard the case of Bradford teenager Syed Choudhury, 19, who plotted to join ISIS and pled guilty to preparing acts of terrorism.

Situated 200 miles north of London amid Yorkshire’s rolling hills and wild moorland, Bradford is home to some of England’s most deprived neighborhoods, with high unemployment and lower levels of education than the national average. Its golden era as the center of the Victorian wool trade – which helped build the towering neo-Gothic buildings at the heart of the city – is long gone. In 1995, American travel writer Bill Bryson opined that Bradford’s sole purpose “is to make every place else in the world look better in comparison.”

Bradford Britain
Phil Noble—ReutersA woman walks along a terraced road in Bradford, Britain, June 18, 2015.

Back when Bradford’s textile industry was booming, the city drew waves of immigrants from South Asia. Now, more than a fifth of Bradford’s 526, 400 people are Pakistani by origin, the Dawood family among them. The streets of the Little Horton area of Bradford where they live are dotted with sari stores, mosques and bakeries selling naan bread and South Asian sweets. It’s not hard to see why the city has earned the nickname “Bradistan.”

The siblings’ parents – Mohammad Dawood and his wife Sara Begum – have at least eight children, all born and raised in Bradford. In a statement, the members of the family still in Bradford said they were devastated by the news and that they did not “support the actions of the sisters leaving their husbands and families in the U.K. and of taking their children into a war zone where life is not safe to join any group.”

Although there are numerous cases of foreign fighters taking children with them to ISIS-controlled territory, the sisters and their children constitute the largest family group known to have left the U.K. to join the extremist group in Syria. The three women seemingly defied the wishes of their parents and husbands in following their brother to Syria. Khadija, Zohra and Sugra apparently felt stronger ties to one another and their brother in Syria than to the family members they left behind in Bradford.

“An essential aspect of extremism is that it has to have social support,” says Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology and co-founder of the Center of Terrorism at the University of Maryland. “It’s very important that these women left as a group, as a network of sisters supporting their brother. Groups tend to polarize around values, and as a result, they tend to be much more extreme than individuals,” he says. Because families are very close-knit, it’s especially difficult for European security agencies – who are already facing a diverse array of threats – to penetrate these networks.

John Horgan, incoming professor of Global Studies and Psychology at Georgia State University, adds that there is relatively little security officials can do to prevent entire families from traveling together. The idea that the nine Dawood children could soon become “cubs of the caliphate”, as ISIS dubs its junior recruits in internal and external propaganda, is an unsettling prospect, but Horgan believes there will be more such cases in the future. “ISIS is preparing for the future and what they’re trying to do is groom the next generation of fighters,” he says.

One aspect of the radicalization process that experts know relatively little about is timing. “There has to be some kind of push factor,” says Horgan, who has been studying terrorism for twenty years. “A family dynamic, a trigger factor in a personal relationship, something ­­ to make someone leave the sidelines and actually consider going out there.”

Whether there was a series of triggers or if the disappearance of their younger brother was enough to motivate the women to leave their Bradford homes is not yet clear. During an emotional appeal to their wives at a press conference on Tuesday, Akhtar Iqbal appealed to his wife, Sugra, and five children aged between three and 15. “I miss you, I love you, I can’t live without you,” he wept. Khadija Dawood’s husband of 11 years, Mohammad Shoaib, also broke down as he begged his wife to bring their 5-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter home. “We had a perfect relationship, we had a lovely family. I don’t know what happened,” he sobbed.

Zohra Dawood’s husband, Zubair Ahmed, was absent; he was in Pakistan. If he had been present Ahmed would have been unlikely to speak of having a perfect relationship with his wife. His marriage to Zohra Dawood had broken down several months earlier. Reached by telephone on Wednesday, he told the BBC he had moved back to Pakistan after his wife “shunned” him and that he did not know of her plans to leave for Syria.

In conversations with TIME, Zohra Dawood’s neighbors paint a portrait of a private woman who likely turned to her siblings for support once her brother left the country and her marriage broke down.

Zoota Khan, 74, who lived next door to the couple since they moved onto the street in 2009, says the trouble all began once Ahmed Dawood left for Syria. “He was her most important brother and she was very upset,” says Khan, whose own family comes from a village in the same northern district of Pakistan as Zubair Ahmed. He tells TIME that Ahmed came over directly from Pakistan for his arranged marriage to Dawood, his first cousin.

Few Hope Avenue residents say they knew Zohra Dawood well but neighbors describe her husband warmly, saying he was a kind and caring father. “The wife kept indoors. It was the dad who was around, who’d give you the time of day,” says Sharon Wood, 43, who has lived on the street for 10 years.

Alex Firth, 37, says she only ever saw the couple together if they were getting in the car to go somewhere. “For a while, I thought Zubair was a single dad. He used to play outside with the girls, help them with their schoolwork, even do their hair. He really did everything. I never really saw any sign of affection from their mother.”

Another neighbor, a 31-year-old Pakistani woman who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash from the community, says Dawood had confided in her last summer that she was unhappy in her marriage and that she and her husband no longer shared a bedroom. She says Dawood also mentioned that she was planning to move to Saudi Arabia. “Zohra told me this country was changing too much, and that she was going to take her daughters away because she didn’t see their future here anymore.”

It remains unclear what finally prompted Dawood to leave her husband last fall. Ahmed told his neighbor Khan it was a misunderstanding and he was praying she would come home. In November, a few weeks after his wife left, Ahmed returned to his hometown of Tajak, about 60 miles west of Islamabad, to take care of his elderly father, who suffered a stroke. “He calls from time to time to ask if I have seen the children, how they are doing,” says Khan.

The Pakistani neighbor who asked to remain anonymous, says her children regularly attended Quran classes in Dawood’s home and were upset to hear the news of Dawood’s disappearance. “Zohra had real Islamic knowledge. She knew much more than us,” she says. By all accounts, the couple were religious. But whereas Dawood usually wore a headscarf with Western clothes, once she moved back into her father’s home she was only ever spotted wearing a full veil and gloves.

Surprising as it may seem, Horgan says research on radicalization has shown that sibling bonds trump ideological bonds time and time again. Psychologists tell TIME that strained personal relationships can often strengthen sibling bonds. The fact that the Dawood sisters always lived within walking distance of one another – and both Zohra and Khadija even shared the same family house for the past seven months ­– make it more likely that they saw themselves less as part of nuclear family units with their husbands and children, but rather as part of an extended family network. Understanding these bonds may well be essential to making sense of what drew the sisters together as they made their decision to leave for Syria,

As this sprawling saga plays out, more and more questions will emerge. Many will likely never be answered. And for the husbands devastated by the disappearance of their wives and children, it’s all too clear that the ties that bind a family can quickly become the ties that destroy them.

TIME Military

The Other Body Count in the Battle Against ISIS

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter And Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey Testify On US Policy In Mideast
Mark Wilson / Getty Images Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and General Martin Dempsey testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

The number of Iraqis being trained by the U.S. is more important than the number of militants being killed

Body counts are notoriously inaccurate—and a poor yardstick for measuring progress on the battlefield. Nonetheless, a top U.S. official recently trumpeted the fact that the U.S.-led alliance has killed “more than 10,000” fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria over the past year. That’s despite the fact that the alliance has regained little territory from the wide swaths of Iraq and Syria ISIS has gobbled up since 2013.

But there is another body count when it comes to assessing the war on ISIS that is far more accurate—and far more telling: the Pentagon had expected to train about 24,000 Iraqis to fight ISIS by this fall, but will only manage to train 7,000, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. (He fattened up the bottom line by adding that the U.S. also had trained “2,000 counter-terrorism service personnel”.)

U.S. Military Trains Iraqi Army
John Moore / Getty ImagesU.S. Army soldiers train Iraqi troops in April.

Even under Carter’s plumped-up number, the U.S. military will have achieved only 38% of its training target by this fall. Such a limited goal, and the inability to achieve it, contrasts with the Iraqi security forces that existed when U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011. The U.S. military left behind a 350,000-strong Iraqi army and a 450,000-strong national police force that “was assessed as a relatively well-trained and disciplined force,” according to a recent U.S. report. But it didn’t last. “The soldiers that we helped to train, when [ISIS] came in, they basically took the uniforms off and ran,” Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., told Carter and Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This good-guy-trained body count is more important than the bad-guy-killed body count, for several reasons:

— It highlights a strong Iraqi reluctance to get involved in the fight against the Islamic State. “Our training efforts in Iraq have thus far been slowed by a lack of trainees—we simply haven’t received enough recruits,” Carter said. “As I’ve told Iraqi leaders, while the United States is open to supporting Iraq more than we already are, we must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government.”

— It suggests the U.S has had poor intelligence about just how willing the Iraqis are to fight. While Dempsey called the training effort the “centerpiece” of the U.S. strategy, only now is the U.S. getting serious about training Sunni fighters, largely located in western Anbar Province. “We determined that our training efforts could be enhanced and thus are now focusing on increasing participation in and throughput of our training efforts, working closely with the Iraqi government and stressing the focus on drawing in Sunni forces, which, as noted, are under-represented in the Iraqi security forces today,” Carter said.

—It calls into question the placement of the four U.S. training camps currently inside Iraq. The U.S. is dispatching 450 more trainers to Anbar to operate a fifth camp. “The numbers [of trainers] are not as significant as the location,” Carter said. “It’s in the heart of Sunni territory, and I think it will make a big difference in the performance of the train-and-equip program as regards recruiting Sunni fighters.” In fact, he predicted the new camp will be generating new Sunni fighters to battle ISIS within “weeks.”

—It confirms that much of the eight years and $25 billion training Iraqi security forces during the first such effort accomplished little. “At a personal level, the most frustrating part of going back to Iraq in February was seeing so much of what we had fought for and achieved during the surge really gone to waste,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who served four tours in Iraq as a Marine.

—It reinforces Carter’s observation last month that the Iraqi forces driven out of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, lacked the “will to fight.”

So long as the Iraqis lack even the will to sign up to fight, the “long, hard slog” that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted for Iraq 12 years ago shows little sign of speeding up.

TIME Military

Of Two Minds About Fighting ISIS

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Josh Petrosino / U.S. Navy An E/A-18G electronic-warfare plane readies for takeoff May 26 from the USS Theodore Roosevelt for a mission against the Islamic State.

The military's leery, and two top newspapers disagree

The U.S. has been bombing the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) for nearly a year, and its citizens—thanks to no American blood being spilled—are paying scant attention. That’s probably just as well, given the lack of consensus inside the U.S. government on what to do, and on the opposing views of two of the nation’s most influential newspapers.

Here’s a tip: it’s generally a bad idea to expand a shooting war when the government and press are split on its merits, a President’s in the twilight of his tenure, and the public doesn’t care. Even successful air campaigns—remember the 32-week effort that pushed Muammar Gaddafi out of Libya’s presidential tent in 2011?—seem less victorious in hindsight, as the north African “nation” becomes a Petri dish for terrorists (the U.S. launched an air strike early Sunday that reportedly killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist who’d set up shop there, the Pentagon said Sunday).

The U.S. thirst for vengeance on ISIS was fueled by the beheadings of three Americans last year. ISIS wanted deeper American involvement (remember, many of them are suicidal) but Washington refused to bite. While President Obama has pledged to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, Pentagon officials lately have been saying “containment” more often. The air strikes have frozen the situation on the ground, which amounts to a de facto containment strategy. Absent a major terror strike linked to ISIS, that could continue indefinitely.

Before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, one of every three U.S. officers opposed it, according to an informal sampling of opinion at the time. Given that—and the years of turmoil it generated inside the U.S. military, and inside the region to this day—it’s not surprising that U.S. military leadership doesn’t want to wade more deeply into the anti-ISIS fight, as the Washington Post reported Sunday.

“Some of the strongest resistance to boosting U.S. involvement came from a surprising place: a war-weary military that has grown increasingly skeptical that force can prevail in a conflict fueled by political and religious grievances,” the Post said. “Their shift reflects the paucity of good options and a reluctance to suffer more combat deaths in a war in which America’s political leaders are far from committed and Iraqis have shown limited will to fight.”

Actually, it’s not that surprising. The notion that the military chomps at the bit to wage war is usually not the case. Some of its leaders, like Colin Powell, have advocated a series of guidelines (overwhelming force, clear objective) that have acted as a brake, when observed, on U.S. military action. It was the State Department, the Post reported, that pushed for assigning limited numbers of U.S. troops closer to the front lines alongside Iraqi forces to make U.S.-led air strikes more effective.

That schism inside the government has been reflected in recent days in editorials in the New York Times and the Post.

The Times complained Friday that Obama’s decision to dispatch 450 more U.S. troops to Iraq will do little to “change Iraq’s dysfunctional politics.” Iraqi politicians “have consistently demonstrated an inability or unwillingness” to share power and reduce the historic divisions among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, it said. “With each increase,” the Times noted, “the United States is being dragged more deeply into a war that lawmakers have been unwilling to authorize formally.”

The Post‘s Sunday editorial seemed uninformed by that piece on its front page about U.S. military doubts. It said the 450 troops, a 15% increase over the 3,100 already there, are too few to make a difference. “Rather than aiming to destroy the [ISIS], Mr. Obama is focused on limiting U.S. engagement,” the editorial said. “It is well within the capacity of the United States to destroy the [ISIS].”

Well, yes. Just like the U.S. succeeded in destroying Saddam Hussein’s state.

TIME Military

U.S. Adapts ‘Lily Pad’ Strategy to Defeat ISIS in Iraq

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked against the Taliban in Afghanistan

The top U.S. military officer likened the expanding American footprint in Iraq Thursday to “lily pads” that will sprout across the pond known as Anbar Province, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria seized the capital last month.

“Our campaign is built on establishing these ‘lily pads’ that allow us to encourage the Iraqi security forces forward,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a visit in Italy. “As they go forward, they may exceed the reach of the particular lily pad”—leading to the creation of new ones.

While the strategy may be a new one since the U.S. pulled its forces out of Iraq in 2011, it has been done before. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, similar campaigns were carried out, often called “oil spot” or “ink blot” strategies.

Retired Army lieutenant colonel Andrew Krepinevich popularized the oil-spot notion in a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs, during the darkest days of the U.S.-led alliance in Iraq. “Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort—hence the image of an expanding oil spot,” wrote Krepinevich, who heads the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Military scholar Max Boot advocated using what he called the “‘spreading inkblot’ strategy” in and around Baghdad in 2007.

It makes sense to establish protected bases in potentially-hostile terrain that can be linked to safer rear areas by air and roads. Each lily pad (or oil spot, or ink blot) gets bigger if its troops succeed in expanding the secure zones around them. Military momentum can lead to the creation of additional lily pads. Ultimately, they all expand until the entire region is free of enemy forces and secure.

Wednesday’s announcement boosts the number of U.S. bases in Iraq to five. “We’re looking all the time to see if additional sites might be necessary,” Dempsey said, although he said the two now in Anbar would probably suffice for that province. “I could foresee one in the corridor that runs from Baghdad to Tikrit to Kirkuk over into Mosul,” he added.

Dempsey detailed the evolving U.S. strategy the day after the White House said it would send up to 450 trainers and advisers to a base near Ramadi in eastern Anbar, within easy range of ISIS attacks. President Obama has pledged to keep U.S. troops out of combat with ISIS, even though allowing small numbers to embed with Iraqi forces to call in U.S. air strikes would make them more effective. The additional forces would push the U.S. troop total in Iraq to 3,550. Any decision to plant additional lily pads could require more U.S. troops in Iraq. U.S. troop strength in the 2003-2011 Iraq war peaked at 158,000 in 2008.

Adding U.S. troops to the Taqaddum military base is significant, Dempsey added, because “it gives us access to another Iraqi division and extends their reach into al Anbar province and gives us access to more tribes.” The U.S. is eager to enlist the Sunni tribes in Anbar in the fight against ISIS, whose members are Sunni. Sending the largely Shi’ite forces in Iraq’s national army to battle Sunnis in the Sunni heartland could inflame sectarian tensions.

Of course, lily pads don’t always thrive. In Afghanistan, they’ve shrunk in recent years. John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, warned two years ago that danger was spreading across the country and limiting the places his inspectors could visit to do their jobs. “U.S. officials have told us that it is often difficult for program and contracting staff to visit reconstruction sites in Afghanistan,” he said in October 2013. “U.S. military officials have told us that they will provide civilian access only to areas within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility.”

The Afghan lily pads have continued to shrivel. “Americans can only really travel safely in Kabul, and for most part no travel outside of green zone in Kabul,” one U.S. official said Thursday, speaking of travel in and around the Afghan capital. “Helicopters are needed to travel less than a mile from the embassy to airport.”

SIGAR
TIME Military

Can the U.S. Military Train the Iraqi Army to Victory Over ISIS?

U.S. Army trainers instruct Iraqi Army recruits at a military base on April 12, 2015 in Taji, Iraq.
John Moore—Getty Images U.S. Army trainers instruct Iraqi Army recruits at a military base on April 12, 2015 in Taji, Iraq.

Obama decides to dispatch 450 more to speed things up

The U.S. military likes to say that when it comes to war, the enemy gets a vote. President Obama made that clear Wednesday as he continued to retool his strategy to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. The biggest tweak to U.S. policy was his decision to boost the 3,180 U.S. trainers and advisers in Iraq by as many as 450 additional troops.

The White House has made it clear U.S. troops will be limited to advising and training Iraqi forces and will not be sent into combat against ISIS. “To improve the capabilities and effectiveness of partners on the ground, the President authorized the deployment of up to 450 additional U.S. military personnel to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. But some on Capitol Hill were not impressed by Obama’s reinforcements. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, a senior member of the armed services committee, called them a “knee-jerk reaction” to recent poor showings by the Iraqi army, rather than a “long-term strategy.”

In many ways, this assignment is déjà vu for the U.S. military. They were ordered into Iraq in the wake of the U.S.-mandated dissolution of the Iraqi army following the 2003 invasion, and told to build a new one from scratch. After all U.S. forces left in 2011, the Iraqi army basically fell apart because of the cronyism and corruption that took place under Nouri al-Malaki, Iraq’s prime minister from 2006 to 2014. Over the past several months they’ve begun anew, training more than 9,000 Iraqi troops, with 3,000 more in the pipeline.

Those sectarian splits caused by Malaki’s government sapped the Iraqi forces “will to fight” to save Ramadi from being overrun by ISIS last month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. While training can give troops the skills needed to prevail on the battlefield, training can’t teach will. Nonetheless, U.S. troops who trained Iraqi forces the first time around say Iraqi forces, given decent leadership, are good fighters. They’ve shared their experiences with Army interviewers. The resulting oral histories offer guidance to those U.S. trainers in, or soon headed for, Iraq.

In the initial rebuilding of the Iraqi army, many units suffered from a Saddam Hussein hangover, where the traditional top-down and centralized command structure stifled innovation and initiative. While the passage of time has eased that problem, Iraqi forces remain hampered by their inability to support their forward forces with the intelligence and logistical support that makes for an effective fighting force. That’s less critical for their ISIS foes, whose terror tactics sow fear across wide swaths of Iraq with only hit-and-run attacks.

U.S. officers who trained Iraqi troops the first time around learned they had to adjust their expectations. “As Americans, we tend to look at things through American goggles, but when you’re over there you have to take off those American goggles and put on the Iraqi goggles,” Army Major Dave Karsen explained following his 2006 training tour. “Once you do that it was like, `Oh, you guys are doing fine by Iraqi standards.’ Put those American goggles back on and it’s like, `You guys are 50 years in the weeds. You guys are operating at a 1918 U.S. capability compared to now.’ It’s just a totally different mindset.”

The key lesson for U.S. trainers was that Iraqi troops are trainable. “When an IED event happened, their first reaction early on was what is referred to as the ‘Iraq death blossom,’ where everybody starts shooting in every direction,” Major Matt Schreiber said of his training stint. “That poses a lot of problems for a number of reasons.” But the Iraqis shaped up with training: “If an IED blew up or detonated, despite the damage and the casualties it caused, we were confident that our Iraq army soldiers would respond they way that they were trained.”

“My personal experience with the Iraqis under fire is that they are very brave and they’re not afraid to fight,” Major William Taylor said. “You tend to find that they’re willing to take risks and do things that American soldiers would never do.” He recalled Iraqi soldiers who found an improvised explosive device and watching one of them “poking the IED with a stick.” Such bravery—or foolhardiness—could be wasted without good leadership. But, he added, “when they had good leaders, they would fight very hard.”

Iraqi leadership often left something to be desired. One brigade commander “would conduct an operation if he could get the local media or the national media to come down and videotape him,” Major Mark Fisher said. But he canceled two operations “at the last minute … because the media told him that they could not make it out today, which is a poor reason for canceling an operation.”

TIME Military

Fight Against ISIS Militants Lags Because They’re Nimble … and the U.S. Isn’t

“We have met the enemy, and it is us,” Obama seems to say

President Obama rattled off a list of what has gone wrong in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria during a wrap-up press conference Monday following the G-7 summit in Germany. Although he didn’t come out and say it, he made clear that while ISIS militants are “nimble and they’re aggressive and they’re opportunistic,” those fighting them — led by his Administration — are not.

Reading between the lines, he also suggested that responsibility for the poor showing thus far can be blamed on the Pentagon, Iraq and Turkey — but not him or his White House staff. It was a deft example of blame shifting that also has the consequence of relegating the presidency to the status of an also-ran.

“We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis,” Obama said, in words that quickly ricocheted around the world. The comment unfortunately echoed one from last summer that sent aides and Pentagon officials wincing: “We don’t have a strategy yet,” he had said in August.

Obama’s remarks generated predictable ire from Republicans. “I fear his incomplete strategy has only emboldened ISIS and put our national security at greater risk,” said Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

More critically, it also sparked concern among retired military officers, increasingly echoing what some of their active-duty counterparts are saying privately. “Did anyone tell him that it’s his job to develop a strategy?” wonders Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star Marine.

The U.S. has been debating its anti-ISIS strategy longer than Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War that drove his forces out, says David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who planned that 38-day air campaign. “In about the same period of time, Saddam had invaded Kuwait with half-a-million forces, and the U.S. had devised a strategy, deployed the required forces to execute it, and eliminated the Iraqi military as an effective force, removing them from Kuwait,” Deptula says. Noting Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s recent complaint that Iraqi forces did not have the “will to fight” for the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, Deptula adds that “it does not appear that our Commander in Chief does, either.”

Read More: Obama Says ‘No Complete Strategy’ for Training Iraqis to Fight ISIS

Obama spoke of ISIS’s resilience following thousands of air strikes led by the U.S. (Monday’s listed here), where ISIS is defeated in one place only to surface in another. “We have made significant progress in pushing back [ISIS] from areas in which they had occupied or disrupted local populations,” Obama said. “But we’ve also seen areas, like in Ramadi, where they’re displaced in one place and then they come back in in another. And they’re nimble and they’re aggressive and they’re opportunistic.”

Obama went on to contrast those characteristics with the sclerotic response of those battling ISIS. It was those particulars that proved jarring, a full year (as of Thursday) after ISIS troops drove Iraqi forces out of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and 10 months after it began beheading American hostages:

One of the areas where we’re going to have to improve is the speed at which we’re training Iraqi forces … We’re reviewing a range of plans for how we might do that, essentially accelerating the number of Iraqi forces that are properly trained and equipped and have a focused strategy and good leadership. And when a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people.

Bottom line: the Pentagon is the bottleneck.

That is not the way to win friends in uniform. True, the Pentagon has no desire to get involved in another ground war in the region. The recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq killed 6,849 Americans, will cost at least $3 trillion, and have achieved few of the goals set by their U.S. architects in exchange for that blood and treasure. In that way, though, the U.S. military is no different from Obama, who was elected promising to extricate the U.S. from those conflicts. Their co-dependency has created a tepid war plan, half-heartedly carried out.

We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment [of Iraqi troops] takes place; how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out … One of the things that we’re still seeing is, in Iraq, places where we’ve got more training capacity than we have recruits.

Bottom line: blame the Iraqis.

Iraq remains a deeply divided society, pitting Sunnis against Shi‘ites against Kurds. With mistrust and bloodlust rampant among them, creating a unified national army to fight ISIS may not be possible in the short term. There was a realpolitik reason Washington tolerated what it often calls autocrats in polite company (known elsewhere in the world as dictators and tyrants) in Egypt, Iraq and Libya. Even when anti-American, they brutally tightened the lid on their sectarian pressure cookers. If the U.S. has decided it’s not wise to keep such potentates in power, it should hardly be surprised when the lids blow off.

The other area where we’ve got to make a lot more progress is on stemming the flow of foreign [ISIS] fighters … We are still seeing thousands of foreign fighters flowing into first Syria and then, oftentimes, ultimately into Iraq … A lot of it is preventable, if we’ve got better cooperation, better coordination, better intelligence, if we are monitoring what’s happening at the Turkish-Syria border more effectively. This is an area where we’ve been seeking deeper cooperation with Turkish authorities, who recognize it’s a problem but haven’t fully ramped up the capacity they need.

Bottom line: it’s the Turks’ fault.

Turkey has performed poorly as the one NATO ally bordering Syria and Iraq throughout the anti-ISIS campaign. But with its own restive Kurdish minority, and fearing Syrian strongman Bashar Assad more than ISIS, it has been content to remain largely on the sidelines.

So there’s a germ of truth in each of Obama’s claims. But that shouldn’t keep the Commander in Chief from looking in the mirror when it comes to assigning culpability for the timorous anti-ISIS campaign and its lackluster results.

TIME Military

Obama Says ‘No Complete Strategy’ for Training Iraqis to Fight ISIS

“We do not yet have a complete strategy,” Obama said during a G7 press conference

President Obama said Monday the U.S. does not have a “complete strategy” for training and recruiting Iraqi forces to ultimately defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS.

“We do not yet have a complete strategy,” Obama said, shifting part of the blame to leaders in Iraq who he said also needed to make commitments in regard to training before a plan could be finalized.

Speaking during a wide-ranging press conference following the G7 summit, a gathering of leaders of the world’s biggest economies, Obama said the U.S. is “reviewing a range of plans” to properly train Iraqi forces.

The President said “significant progress had been made” in pushing back against ISIS as the terror group gains more stronghold in parts of Iraq in Syria but that the U.S. needed to improve the “speed at which we’re training Iraqi forces” and efforts to recruit forces for training.

Obama’s previous statements about not having a plan to defeat ISIS have been the source of political contention for quite some time. Monday’s statements came in the wake of discussions with world leaders and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq about the world’s efforts to defeat the terror group as they’re reach in the region grows.

Obama and Abadi met for a meeting earlier on Monday where Obama said the U.S. would continue to provide assistance to the Iraqi people though no additional military commitments were made. The Prime Minister has been vocal about the need for more assistance from the U.S., saying recently Obama and other leaders are not doing enough to fight the terror group.

“As long Minister Abadi and the government stay committed to an inclusive approach,” Obama said while meeting with the Prime Minister. “I am absolutely confident that we will be successful.”

The effort to defeat ISIS was a major topic of discussion at the G7 summit, as was the ongoing sanctions regime against Russia. Obama said Monday that there was a “strong consensus” among G7 partners that they need to keep pushing Russia and Ukraine to agree to the terms laid out in the Minsk agreements, but until those obligations are met sanctions will remain in place

The people of Russia, Obama said, are “suffering” under the sanctions, but the “best way for them to stop suffering is if the Minsk agreement is fully implemented.”

Read More: Congress Takes Tiny Step Toward Authorizing Anti-ISIS War

TIME Lincoln Chafee

Lincoln Chafee Announces Presidential Run

Potential Democratic presidential candidate former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (D-RI) delivers remarks at the South Carolina Democratic Party state convention April 25, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Win McNamee—Getty Images Potential Democratic presidential candidate former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (D-RI) delivers remarks at the South Carolina Democratic Party state convention April 25, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.

A crowded Republican presidential primary has led to more than a few candidates being called longshots for 2016. But the most unlikely candidate may actually be on the Democratic side.

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who announced Wednesday evening that he’ll run for president in a speech at a George Mason University center in Arlington, Va., has more than a few strikes against him.

First, and most importantly, he was a Republican until after he left the U.S. Senate in 2007 and an independent until 2013, in the latter half of his single term as governor. He also has low national name recognition, with a May poll from Quinnipiac University showing only one percent support among Democratic-leaning voters, compared to a sweeping 57 percent for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Even worse, Chafee doesn’t even get high marks in his own state. A 2013 poll from Brown University showed his approval rating at just 26 percent, one likely reason he did not run for re-election as governor the following year. When he announced that decision, Chafee complained about the “irrational negativity” he faced in office.

Chafee’s problems are also technical. His wife, Stephanie, recently posted on Facebook asking if any of his former staffers could remember how to log in to his official Facebook page.

Still, he is pushing ahead. “I enjoy challenges and certainly we have many facing America. Today, I am formally entering the race for the Democratic nomination for president,” Chafee said Wednesday.

He hopes to use foreign policy to get an edge on Clinton. Already, Chafee has cited his vote against the Iraq war and Clinton’s vote for it. In a pre-announcement video, he also replayed a portion of former President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address, which helped popularize the term “military-industrial complex.”

“I believe events occurring around the world threaten our economy and all that we hold dear,” Chafee said in the video. “I would argue that the decision to invade Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and far beyond.”

Chafee also endorsed moving the United States to the metric system.

“Let’s join the rest of the world and go metric,” he said. “It will help our economy.”

Read More: Lincoln Chafee Is Trying to Re-Run Obama’s 2008 Playbook

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